I wanted to share one of my favorite days on the Camino. It’s something I haven’t shared with many people other than my Camino family and actual family. This happened on my Day 6 — on May 2nd, 2017, also my Dad’s birthday; somewhere between Le Py and Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac, France, whilst crossing the Aubrac.
I had stopped to take pictures at the scenic le Pont de Marchastel when the clouds decided I was way too dry. About 10min later, I was trudging uphill as curtains of freezing rain / sleet pelted my poncho. Perhaps 500m from the hamlet of Montgros, I came across two couples heading the opposite direction… as in, east towards Le Puy. We were careful to negotiate the slush-filled mud puddles; as I looked up to give my best “Bonjour, Buen Camino, Bon Chemin” greeting it struck me… I actually knew one of the couples. Flustered, I quickly stammered a mixture of English, French, German, before bursting out “Evelyn, Guy… it’s me, Michael!”
They did not recognize me and were probably shocked to hear their names spoken in English by a stranger. I quickly removed my poncho hood and then they slowly recognized me. Nine months earlier I was dating their daughter who lived in Paris. I last saw them in was in their hometown of Espalion, during a “meet the parents” holiday.
I clumsily slogged across the puddle to greet, hug, and kiss them both. My French is terrible, and their English is worse; it seemed all I could anyway was “wow, wow, wow” before I began sobbing uncontrollably. Their travel companions immediately insisted that we let them know what was going on. Thankfully, they knew enough English to translate for all of us.
For a few years both couples have been walking stages of the Camino in reverse from Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port to Le Puy. This year they were taking 7 days to walk from Espalion to Le Puy… and happened to be doing so while their daughter’s American x-boyfriend was on the Chemin headed the opposite direction!
Months earlier, during my visit to Espalion, I came across a bronze scallop shell on the street. My girlfriend explained that the Camino doesn’t really start in Saint-Jean-Pied-du-Port to Le Puy, but at your front door; and that many folks choose to start their Camino in Le Puy en Velay. That’s the entire reason I decided to start my Camino in Le Puy en Velay… the idea was planted in my head while standing over a scallop shell, next to the River Lot, in picturesque Espalion. Besides, it was only an extra 500 miles.
Before we parted ways, I spun around to show them my rucksack to reveal I was carrying the scallop shell they gave me months earlier while seated at their dining table. We quickly took pictures of this serendipitous encounter… but none with my camera! After more hugs, kisses, laughs, and “wows” or “waows” (as the French say), we said our final goodbyes.
Soon after they were out of sight I collapsed to my knees in the snow and rain, in the middle of the trail, and began to cry… no, openly weep. Man, it felt good — tears of sorrow, happiness, and contentedness; each sob reaffirming that I was exactly where I needed to be… on the Way. Bon Chemin!
What about you… have you experienced a memorable “wow” moment that stop you in your tracks? How did it affect you?